ONEUW 160X Strobes – First Impressions Review
By Don Silcock
It’s no secret that Italians are, by nature, passionate and enthusiastic people… so when the first message arrived from my great friend Filippo Borghi extolling the virtues of the new strobes he had been testing… quite frankly I took it all with a pinch of salt!
However, the messages kept on coming! So, I tried putting it all down to the fact that these new strobes were made in Italy and Filippo was patriotic.
So still the messages kept on coming, and it seemed that we MUST buy a pair each for our upcoming trip to South Australia to photograph the leafy seadragons and giant Australian cuttlefish!
The last thing I needed then was more strobes to add to my already considerable collection, but Filippo prevailed, and before I could say Ciao I was sending him a not insignificant amount of money.
Fast forward to 1 June and Adelaide airport as we met up to start our epic road trip around South Australia and I am reassured as Filippo assures me that the “babies” are safe and sound in his suitcase!
First Impressions – Look Great… But What Else Would You Expect From Italy?
It is evident when you first see the ONEUW 160X strobes that they indeed appear to have been very well made, and everything about them looks excellent.
My background is mechanical engineering, so well-made stuff automatically catches my attention – but I have to say that all the things I had “invested” in through Filippo did look great when I inspected the babies for the first time! The attention to detail apparent in the design, manufacturing, and delivery of what I had bought was very impressive – from the neoprene covers on the strobes themselves not to mention the ones for the dome elements and those for the batteries, the additional O rings on the special strobe cables, the locking mechanism on the battery cover to the actual black finish on the strobes themselves, it all said quality.
However, I have to say that as good as it all looked, memories of my youth in the UK and that beautiful Alfa Romeo that I was so proud of many years ago disturbed my sleep patterns the first night in South Australia…
Like my new strobes, that Alfa was the most incredible piece of engineering I had ever owned, but man… it nearly bankrupted me trying to keep it on the road!
In the Water
I used my new strobes every day for the next 15 days as we explored the wonderful jetties of South Australia and then immersed ourselves in the incredible spectacle that is the annual aggregation of Giant Australian Cuttlefish at Whyalla. Here is what I took away from that experience:
- Reliable: Despite my initial concerns about repeating my out-of-body Alfa Romeo experience, both strobes, and all their auxiliary equipment were 100% reliable. Moreover, as the days passed my level of confidence kept on rising to the point, I have now consigned the Alfa back into history…
- Easy to Use: I found the strobes intuitive and very easy to use. Turning them on is very simple even in the cold waters of South Australia and adjusting the power setting was equally easy and quick to do.
The LED power setting indicator can be inverted so that it is the right way up when the strobe is the other way around… However, even when it’s upside down, it is still easy to read.
Powerful: The ONEUW 160X strobes have a Guide Number (GN) of 20, which would seem quite low when compared to other units on the market which claim GN’s of 32. However, as the owner of many strobes, I have learned that you need to look a little bit deeper than what is listed under “specifications…”
In my experience, what really matters with strobe power are two things – the power in the center of the beam and the power at the edges. Interestingly ONEUW provides details for that with a GN of 20 at the center and the same at 90° with 18 at 110°and finally a GN of 16 at 130°
What that means is that rather than concentrating the available light in the center (and claiming a higher overall GN…) the light is very evenly distributed with only minimal fall-off at the very edges.
That translates into great usability underwater because there are no hot-spots or dark patches!
Blue Water: The optimum color temperature for underwater is widely considered to be 4600°K, and many strobes state that is what they output, but the One160x strobes are the first strobes I have ever used where I could see a visible difference.
This was one of the things that Filippo got so excited (Italian?) about in his messages, but it was hard for me to judge from a distance. I was stunned when I looked at my first images — the straight out of the camera backgrounds were unlike I had ever experienced before!
Quality of the Light: The ONEUW 160X strobes come with a domed plexiglass front element, so there is no need to use diffusers. I am not privy to the physics behind the design, but what I can tell you is that the light from the strobes produces what I can only describe as a 3D effect.
The even distribution of the light and the domed front element illuminate the subject superbly, making it stand out against the background – which is also well lit, but subtly so and the overall impact is incredible.
Backscatter: Underwater conditions in South Australia can vary a great deal, depending on the weather and tides, so we were often diving in conditions where I was expecting significant backscatter.
However, much to my surprise when I reviewed my images each evening, while it was clear that we had not been diving in gin clear water the amount of actual backscatter was relatively minimal, given the overall conditions, and was quite manageable in post.
Crop of unprocessed image showing minimal backscatter, despite conditions
I found this quite surprising as I was using the same technique I always used – with strobes well back behind the housing handles and angled out slightly. Again, I am not privy to the physics, but I believe that the domed front element plays a significant role in this.
Battery Life: Both Filippo and I opted for an extra set of two batteries, figuring that we would surely need them in South Australia… However, we didn’t – once!
The batteries are rated at “over” 250 exposures at full power, something we never needed and so we would finish long days of diving with plenty of power still left. Plus, the battery chargers are both small and robust, so recharging rarely took more than a couple of hours.
What Does Good Look Like?
With the two new ONEUW 160X strobes I am now the owner of 16 strobes! Yes, I know… however, I have a reasonable excuse as I live in two places (Sydney and Bali - it’s not as grand as it might sound) so I have gravitated to having sets of gear in both places.
For general wide-angle and travel, I use Ikelite DS160 strobes, for “big animal” photography I use Sea & Sea YS250 strobes, and for macro, I use Inon strobes.
None are perfect, but my benchmark for overall power, beam coverage, recycle time, reliability and durability have been the YS250’s, and I have four of the monsters – two in Sydney and two in Bali.
The really great thing about the YS250’s is the way they can illuminate big animal subjects (albeit at about ¼ to ⅓ power) at the 10 fps capability of my Nikon D500. I appreciate that you probably don’t need that capability so often, but when you do – you need it!
The BIG question in my mind once I got back from South Australia was, could the ONEUW 160X strobes replace my YS250’s and DS160’s? Physically they are a bit smaller and lighter than the Ikelites and seem like miniatures compared to the YS250’s!
So, I decided to test the One160x against the YS250’s, and here is how I did it:
- D500 Settings: Manual exposure, same settings throughout and 10 FPS for 10 exposures.
- ONEUW 160X Setting: 10 frames @ 10 FPS with the strobes set at -6 stops, -5 stops, -4 stops, -3 stops and -2 stops… batteries fully charged
- YS250 Settings: 10 frames @ 10 FPS with the strobes set at ¼, ¼ to ½, ½ and ½ to Full power… batteries fully charged
Obviously not an exact correlation on the strobe power settings, but I typically use ¼ power with the YS250’s and big animals, and I get very reliable exposures at 10FPS, but I have never actually tested the performance before. What I found when I did test was that at ¼ to ½ power setting the YS250’s were able to recycle and fire consistently for the full 10 frames.
At ½ power on the YS250’s they were able to recycle and fire consistently for the first 8 frames and then there was a slight reduction in power on the last two frames.
At ½ to Full power every third exposure was dark with the YS 250’s unable to recycle in time, so two out of three frames were excellent and the third was not.
On the One160x strobes, they were able to recycle and fire consistently at 10 FPS until I got to the -3 stop setting, which is half power in my calculations… also, the first 5 frames fired consistently. Then frames 6 and 7 showed a slight reduction in exposure, frame 8 did not recycle, and frames 9 and 10 were almost back to firing consistently.
At the -2 stops setting on the One160x strobes the first 2 frames fired consistently, then frame 3 showed a reduction and frames 4,5 and 6 did not fire. Frame 7 fired, but not fully and frames 8,9 and 10 did not fire.
So… the way it looks to me are that the YS 250’s start to falter at ½ power, but are very consistent below that. While the ONEUW 160X’s are also very consistent up to their half power settings and then also start to falter.
Which effectively indicates that both strobes are equal in power and ability to keep up with high frame rates.
The overall experience with the ONEUW 160X strobes was a revelation to me, and I have to say it… Filippo was 100% correct – these are incredible devices that open up all sorts of creative opportunities that I did not have before.
Several other European strobes are firmly positioned at the top end of the market. I have no personal experience of any of them, so I cannot offer an opinion apart from the fact that I have always choked at the last minute when looking to buy them…
Which is why I ended up with what I have – until Filippo hounded me that is!
So, what am I going to do? Well, I am going to keep a pair of YS250’s, a couple of Inon’s and sell the rest and spend the proceeds on a second pair of ONEUW 160Xs.
Why? Well, as the saying goes, don’t spend your money on a new camera – buy better water to dive in. I am going one step further, and I am going to be buying better light!
Don is an underwater photographer based from Bali in Indonesia, and his website www.indopacificimages.com has extensive location guides, articles, and images on some of the world’s best diving locations and underwater experiences.